DUNNOTTAR CASTLE

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“High on a rock, half sea-girt, half on land.
The castle stood, and still its ruins stand.
Wide o’er the German main the prospect bent,
Steep is the path and rugged the ascent:
There hung the huge portcullis — there the bar
Drawn on the iron gate defied the war.”
“Dunnottar Castle,” by Mrs. Carnegie, 1795.

The view of Dunnottar Castle, which so happily illustrates this portion of the
work, represents one of the most remarkable features that are anywhere to be met with
on the coasts of the British empire. The drawing was taken on the spot, and shows
with admirable effect and precision those striking combinations of nature and art which,
during a long series of ages, rendered the fortress of Dunnottar impregnable. But those
rocky foundations from which it once rose in all the strength and grandeur of feudal
architecture are fast yielding to the encroachments of the sea; its crested summits, once
brilliant with arms and bristling with cannon, seem ready to drop from their precipice.
Unroofed, unlatticed, untenanted, with not an ember left on its once capacious hearth,
desolation and ruin are vividly pictured in its dreary solitude. The floors are covered
with crumbling fragments of varied and costly decorations in sculpture, painting, and
fretwork. Once a palace — commanding all that could minister to the security and
luxury of its almost royal possessors, its battlements gay with standards, crowded with
retainers, mailed guests in the hall, and minstrels in the court — it is now dark as a
sepulchre; — banners, retainers, guests, minstrels, and the master of the feast himself^
— all are gone ! The hoarse dash of the waves, the shrill scream of the stormy petrel,
the crash of some disjointed and falling rock, or the whistling of the coming tempest,
are almost the only sounds that now alternate among these embattled heights, where
the curious stranger retraces with melancholy interest the days and deeds of antiquity.
To him who is familiar with its history, Dunnottar speaks with an audible voice; every
cave has a record — every turret a tongue; his ear is struck with “wandering voices,”
and words that never die seem at every step to arrest his attention.

The Castle of Dunnottar — now the stately and magnificent ruin thus feebly
sketched — stands on an isolated rock two hundred feet perpendicular, washed on
three sides by the sea, and on the other separated from the adjacent land by a wide

and deep chasm, from which by a gate in the wall, nearly forty feet high, there is an
entrance to the fortress. Leading upwards from this gate there is a long steep passage,
partly arched over, and formerly secured by two drawbridges, the grooves for which
are still visible. At the inner end of this passage is another gate, opening into the castle
area, which is enclosed by a wall, and occupied by buildings of various epochs. But
of all the buildings on this rock the chapel is the most ancient, and there is reason to
believe that it originally served as the parish church of Dunnottar. The Castle, or the
peninsular rock on which it stands, makes its first appearance in Scottish history during
the wars of Bruce and Baliol, when, it is alleged by some modern authorities, the castle
was erected by Sir William Keith as a place of safety for himself and friends. According
to Blind Harry and Hector Boece, Dunnottar was surprised and taken by Sir William
Wallace in 1297, and the Blind Historian relates that Dunnottar was occupied by four
thousand English troops, who had fled before the victorious arms of the Liberator; and
that when Wallace made the onslaught, as many of them as the church would contain
took shelter there, in the hope that consecrated ground would not be violated by their
slaughter; but, says the bard, —

“Wallace on fyre gart set all haistely,
Brynt up the kyrk and all that was thairin.”

In the year 1.336 Dunnottar was fortified and garrisoned by Edward III.; but
immediately after his departure for England it was attacked and carried by the gallant
Sir Andrew Moray, who destroyed the fortifications of the Castle, so that it might not
again afford ready protection to an enemy.

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